The last two chapters of Genesis remind us that God is always at work, providentially advancing His eternal plan. They also remind us that His plan involves His work in individual lives and experiences to promote love, forgiveness, faith, and faithfulness.
Today we finish our Wisdom Journey through the book of Genesis, or the book of “Beginnings,” which is what “Genesis” means.
We’ve studied the only eyewitness account of Creation, as God revealed it to us through Moses. We’ve watched as the first couple, Adam and Eve, walked right into sin, and we’ve watched the results of sin spread through our fallen human race.
But Genesis is also a book of promises. It presents the promise of a coming Redeemer, which has since come true in Jesus Christ. It offers promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation Israel—promises of a land, a throne, and a kingdom—which will all be fulfilled when we reach the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.
For today, the last scene of Jacob’s life shows us a man of deep faith, so different from his earlier years of self-centeredness and deception. In these closing chapters, we’ve watched Jacob speak words of blessing to Pharaoh in chapter 47 and words of promise and blessing to Joseph and his two sons in chapter 48. Now in chapter 49, he gathers his twelve sons to his side to bless each of them.
Verse 28 sets the stage for us as we’re told that Jacob “blessed them . . . each with the blessing suitable to him.” In other words, these blessings are prophetic. In fact, verse 1 states that these blessings are all about “what shall happen . . . in [the] days to come.”
Jacob begins with his oldest son, Reuben in verses 3-4. He says that while Reuben is preeminent in dignity and power, he is “unstable as water” emotionally. Because of the sin described in Genesis 35:22, his tribe will not be preeminent in Israel.
Next, Jacob blesses Simeon and Levi together in verses 5-7. He recalls their murderous revenge in Shechem years earlier and now delivers the lasting consequences of their sin, which will include being scattered abroad.
Beloved, this is a good reminder that while your sins and mine are forgiven through the blood of Christ, consequences might still remain. The effects of drugs on someone’s mental capabilities aren’t miraculously removed when a person becomes a Christian; a prison sentence isn’t eliminated just because you get saved; a marriage or a ministry that’s lost because of infidelity isn’t automatically restored.
Beloved, sin can be forgiven, but consequences can linger. And God wants you to accept that fact. Don’t resent God, and don’t resist what God’s plans are for you now as you trust Him and walk with Him. It might look different now, but God has a future for you as you walk with Him.
You can’t change yesterday, but God can change you, and He has a purpose for you even now. Like the apostle Paul, who had a terrible past of persecuting Christians, you can say, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, is described as a powerful lion who will become a leader among the tribes of Israel. Verse 10 says the scepter and the ruler’s staff will remain in Judah “until tribute comes to him.” This word “tribute” here is literally “Shiloh” and probably refers to the Messiah. So, Judah will become the royal tribe in Israel from which David will come and eventually the Messiah-King.
Zebulun and Issachar are mentioned briefly with few details in Jacob’s blessing. His son Dan is described as a “judge” in verse 16, and the judge Samson will become a prominent figure from the tribe of Dan.
Jacob’s blessings on Gad, Asher, and Naphtali are brief and predict future conflicts and even productivity on their farms.
The blessings for Joseph’s descendants, who will become the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, are described in verses 22-26. Like Joseph himself, they will prosper but also come under attack. In the end, however, they’re going to stand firm by the help of Almighty God.
Finally, the youngest, Benjamin, is described as a wolf. This probably speaks of his descendants’ warlike character. Judges 20:16 tells us some Benjaminites were known for their military skill as archers and slingers.
In Genesis 49:29-30, Jacob charges his sons to bury him in the cave of Machpelah; this is where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are all buried. This is a declaration of Jacob’s faith, because for the last seventeen years of his life, he has lived in Egypt. But he considers Canaan, the land of promise, his real home. Following the command concerning his burial, Jacob dies.
As we arrive in the last chapter of Genesis, chapter 50, two events get most of the attention. The first is the burial of Jacob. In verse 2 we read that Joseph orders the embalming of his father’s body. This way, Joseph is able to preserve Jacob’s body for the long trip back to Canaan.
The second event refocuses on Joseph and his brothers. After Jacob dies, Joseph’s older brothers are afraid Joseph might seek revenge after all. So, in verse 16, they send a message to Joseph, asking all over again for forgiveness.
Listen, thirty-nine years after they sold Joseph into slavery, they still can’t believe Joseph has really forgiven them. I mean, you just don’t forgive this kind of thing!
Is Joseph going to call for the royal executioner to lop off their heads now that Jacob has died? No, he tells them in verse 19 they have nothing to fear. And then he makes this incredible statement to them:
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear.” (verses 20-21)
Wow! How do you respond like this? Remember, Joseph had suffered through years of unfair treatment and unjust punishment. His life had been permanently changed. He’s going to live in Egypt until he dies.
Responding like Joseph means understanding the principle of divine appointment. Joseph recognized that all he experienced was ultimately God’s plan. God was in control, even of the evil that impacted his life.
Joseph never could have predicted exactly how the Lord would work it all out, but he was confident God would. And now, after nearly forty years—a lifetime—he demonstrates grace to his brothers and forgives them.
Beloved, have you forgotten that where you are in life is not the result of human accidents, but of divine appointments? Listen to Joseph tell his brothers that everything that happens in life, the good and the bad, is on God’s appointment calendar. And keep in mind that Joseph had to wait forty years before it all made sense.
Several decades later, before Joseph dies at the age of 110, he makes the nation of Israel promise to take his body with them when they leave the land of Egypt. And some 400 years later, the great exodus takes place, and Moses keeps that promise, carrying Joseph’s bones with him as Jacob’s descendants leave the land of Egypt for good (Exodus 13:19).
The Book of Beginnings now comes to an end. This book, which began with the creation of life, ends with the death of Joseph, as if to highlight what sin brought into a world God had created in perfection.
But Genesis also ends with the assurance that whatever God promises, He fulfills; that no matter what happens to you in this fallen world of sin, God will carry you through, all the way to the promised land of heaven. And in the meantime, wherever you are right now is by the divine appointment of God.